Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 11/11.4.2

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To Reward, or to Punish? That is the question.[edit]

by Courtney Townsend

Learning Targets [edit]

  • The student will understand the difference between reward and punishment.
  • The student will know different methods of rewarding a student.
  • The student will know different methods of punishing a student.
  • The student will be able to choose the best method depending on a classroom scenario.


When it comes to rewarding and punishing, it can be hard for teachers to decide the best way to get their point across to their students. In today's world, long gone are the times when a licorice stick was given as a reward and a light slap on the hand sufficed as suitable punishment. This action of causing pain to be used as a punishing tool, known as corporal punishment, can sometimes scar a child for life. Now, there are more effective ways of correcting or appraising a student's actions. When it comes to correcting a student's behavior, verbal reprimanding is not always the best answer. Concerning praise, there are other alternatives other than incentives. The choice that teachers have to make is a difficult decision because of the impact it can have on a student. Exploring many methods is an effective way to pick the best solution for the student based on his or her situation.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?[edit]

When a student performs well in the classroom, there are many things a teacher must consider before showering the child with praise. Rewarding a student consists of giving a student praise because of good behavior, performing a task well, or other positive classroom attributes. Forms of praise are beneficial if used correctly. Firstly, one should not overly praise a student while not praising another enough. Also, giving a student too much rewarding can sometimes hurt them in the future. The student can feel confident about the work they have accomplished; however, if they do not perform well on the next task, it can make them feel insignificant or bashful to try in the future. So the question teachers must ask themselves is, "What is the best method to reward a student without hurting them or the rest of the class in the future?"

For some teachers, this method has worked in the past: "Games, which included drawing, cooking, building with clay, and telling stories using a flannel board, encouraged children to be physically active, promoted cooperative work, and provided a 'safe' environment for practicing" (Stratzner, 1994, p. 292).

Methods of Rewarding a Student[edit]

For some teachers, the best way to reward students for performing well and encouraging them to try in the future is by using incentives. Incentives can be used in many different ways. One of these methods is using a point system that incorporates giving a student a point when he or she does well. At the end of the week, they can receive a prize such as doing a fun activity, to act as a reward ("CanTeach," 2008). Another effective award system consists of having the class work together to fill a jar full of marbles. A marble is put in the jar when a student does well and the marbles are counted at the end of the week for a class prize ("CanTeach," 2008). This is an effective reward method because it requires the class to work together while building teamwork skills and allows them to achieve a group goal.

Many teachers struggle with different methods while teaching. The wrong method may not only be unsuccessful, but it could also entice the student to act out more in the future. In an article written by Elsa Stratzner, she writes of a teacher who struggles with the same scenario as previously mentioned. The teacher tries many different ways of dealing with the student in order to find a method that worked. At first, she simply ignores his disruptive behavior to see if it is a one-time thing (Stratzner, 1994, p. 289). When the behavior does not subside, she tries a rewarding way of dealing with his problems. The teacher put the misbehaving student in a group that works together to receive points (Stratzner, 1994, p. 290). This way of praise seemed to bounce the bad student back into shape immediately. He began to raise his hand in class to participate and, soon, became a student who volunteered to answer frequently in the classroom (Stratzner, 1994, p. 290).


Many incentives are questioned about whether or not they are effective. Some people believe that if a student only strives to perform well because of an incentive, they will not learn to do things on their own when they are older. According to some instructors, "...neither facile bribes (i.e. immediate incentives and rewards), nor immediate punishments, (threats and negative consequences) actually realize their desired end-results. That such tactics tend to encourage the desired behavior at such superficial and incomplete levels, that, at the end of the day, students overall skills, retention and interest actually decline because they are misled about the nature of and reason for learning" (Henry, 2008). Like rewards, incentives are beneficial when they are correctly used. Rather than rewarding a student with candy or other materialistic things, learning exercises, like a math or spelling game, can be used as a reward. This method ensures that the incentive is educational to the student and does not promote students to act out of greed but rather the desire to learn while having fun.

Can Punishing Be Rewarding in the Long Run?[edit]

While you are teaching a lesson, a student is continuing to disrupt the classroom. He not only is distracting you while you are trying to teach, but he is distracting the other students around him from learning. What do you do? Do you single him out in the middle of the room and reprimand him in front of his classmates? Do you stop your lesson completely and pull him aside to speak to him alone? Or do you ignore his misbehavior completely and deal with his punishment after you are finished teaching the lesson?

Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman wrote an article discussing different punishment scenarios and the apprehension teachers face when punishing a misbehaving student. According to her journal, "Corrective comments and modeling have been described as practices that improve children's classroom behavior, foster a classroom atmosphere well-suited for learning, and provide students with a sense of class membership" (Rimm-Kaufman & Sawyer, 2004, p. 324). A teacher sometimes has to experiment with different means of punishment before finding a suitable way of reprimanding the student that is beneficial, not hurtful.

Methods of Punishment[edit]

One way to get over a misbehavior barrier is to have the student write about their misbehavior; some teachers find this exercise to be a great way to learn about their students. According to Ellen Delisio of Education World, "Having students write about their misbehavior, why it occurred, and what they are going to do to correct it is valuable for students and teachers. Students get a chance to have their say, and teachers can review the write-ups with students and keep the documents in students' files" (Delisio, 2008). This method gives a different viewpoint to why misbehavior occurs.

Some teachers actually got together to develop a method that would help classroom management. This method is known as the Responsive Classroom approach (Rimm-Kaufman & Sawyer, 2004, p. 324). The Responsive Classroom approach uses teacher empathy and structure to help students learn self-control in the classroom (Rimm-Kaufman & Sawyer, 2004, p. 324). The approach helps create a suitable, calm environment that enhances student's good behavior and makes them aware of how their behavior affects others (Rimm-Kaufman & Sawyer, 2004, p. 325). Using teacher empathy to promote structure in the classroom helps to develop a routine that students can become comfortable with by doing things such as having a morning meeting as a class and letting students be aware of rules and consequences (Rimm-Kaufman & Sawyer, 2004, p. 325).

Conclusion: Reward or Punishment?[edit]

Overall, the decision to use methods of rewarding or methods of punishment is solely up to the teacher. Many educators prefer to neither punish or reward. "As teachers, we need to look not at how to punish or reward, but how we can create an environment in classes that values openness, choice, caring, frequent collaboration and super interesting/engaging content" (Henry, 2008).The best way to find out which methods work is to do trial-and-error exercises when a child does something well or a child misbehaves. For some teachers, their methods may change with each student. It may take a while, but once a teacher studies and practices means of reward and punishment, the classroom will soon be balanced and under control. Hang in there and you will be holding the reigns in no time.

Multiple Choice Quiz[edit]

1. In Elsa Stratzner's article the teacher had to use which method of rewarding to help her student succeed?

a. She would give the student candy when a task was performed well.

b. The teacher put the misbehaving student in a group that works together to receive points.

c. The student would get stickers on assignments that were done correctly.

d. The student received no form of reward.

2. Which of these methods is NOT a beneficial method of punishment?

a. Students must write about their misbehavior.

b. Teachers give corrective comments following a students misbehavior.

c. Slapping a student on the back of the hand with a ruler.

d. Modeling an example that show students the correct way of acting in the classroom.

3. What type of games could be used as a method of rewarding, yet still be used in an educational manner?

a. Telling stories using a flannel board.

b. Putting marbles in a jar due to good behavior and using them for a classroom prize.

c. Building educational objects out of clay.

d. All of the above.

4. A student is misbehaving while you are trying to teach a lesson. What is the best way to handle the situation?

a. Ignore the behavior.

b. Stop your lesson and yell at the student to stop.

c. Politely ask the student to stop any misbehavior and have the student write why he or she misbehaved.

d. Bribe the student to behave by offering candy for good behavior.

Answer Key: 1. b, 2. c, 3. d, 4. c


CanTeach. (2008). A List of Ways to Encourage Good Behavior. Retrieved February 9, 2009, from CanTeach Web site:

Delisio, E. (2008). "Helping Students Find the 'Write' Way to Behave." Retrieved February 7, 2009, from National Education Association Web site:

Henry, P. (2008). "Carrots or Sticks? Rewards and Punishment in Education." Retrieved February 7, 2009, from New Teacher Network website:

Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., & Sawyer, B.E. (2004). Primary-Grade Teachers' Self-Efficacy Beliefs, Attitudes toward Teaching, and Discipline and Teaching Practice Priorities in Relation to the "Responsive Classroom" Approach. The Elementary School Journal, 104, 321-341.

Stratzner, E.L. (1994). And Marvin Raised His Hand: Practices That Encourage Children's Classroom Participation. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 24, 285-297.